- Astronomers saw the light behind a black hole for the first time.
- The black hole warped light from X-ray explosions on its far side, bending the light toward Earth.
- It further confirms Albert Einstein’s theory that massive objects like black holes distort space-time.
For the first time, scientists have seen the light behind a black hole.
Because no light can pass through a black hole and exit the other side, the discovery further supports Albert Einstein’s theory that massive objects, like black holes and neutron stars, distort space. This particular black hole, 800 million light years away, distorted space so much that astronomers could see X-ray explosions flashing behind it.
“Not all the light that enters this black hole comes out of it, so we shouldn’t be able to see anything behind the black hole,” said Dan Wilkins, a researcher at the Stanford Kavli Institute for Astrophysics particles and cosmology, in a press release. “The reason we can see this is because this black hole distorts space, bends light, and twists the magnetic fields around it.”
According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, massive objects distort the space-time fabric. Instead of continuing in a linear fashion, spacetime curves around them, creating curved paths that other objects must follow as they move. That, said Einstein, is gravity.
Just as gravity forces a planet to orbit a star, light should follow the same curved path around objects like black holes, which can have the mass of billions of suns. But no one had ever observed a black hole bending and warping the light behind him until now.
Wilkins and his fellow astronomers weren’t trying to find examples of space-time-distorting black holes. Instead, they observed the black hole in question with X-ray telescopes to study its corona – a region of electrons heated by the black hole’s immense gravity to temperatures of up to a billion degrees.
From this spinning hot disk, magnetic fields travel away from the black hole in huge loops, then twist and break, exploding into bright flashes of x-rays. It looks like what’s happening on the surface. of our sun (whose outermost layer is called the crown).
“This magnetic field that sets and then moves closer to the black hole heats everything around it and produces these high-energy electrons which then produce the x-rays,” Wilkins said.
But when the researchers observed these bursts of light, they also detected smaller, slightly delayed flashes of different colors. These mysterious lightnings appear to be the curved light of the crowns on the other side of the black hole. They aligned with the researchers’ predictions of what this distant corona activity should look like.
Wilkins and his colleagues published their findings in the journal Nature last week.
“Fifty years ago, when astrophysicists began to speculate on the behavior of the magnetic field near a black hole, they had no idea that one day we could have the techniques to observe it directly and see the Einstein’s general theory of relativity in action, “physicist Roger Blandford, co-author of the article, said in the statement.
Wilkins hopes to continue studying black hole crowns with a future X-ray space observatory, the Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics (Athena). The telescope is still in the early stages of development; the European Space Agency plans to launch it into orbit around Earth in 2031.
“It has a much larger mirror than the one we’ve ever had on an x-ray telescope and it’s going to allow us to get higher resolution images in much shorter observation times,” he said. he declares. “So the picture we’re starting to get from the data right now is going to become a lot clearer with these new observatories.”